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Carolyn Hax: Mom thinks her profane adult kids sound ‘crass, or dull’

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
3 min

Hi, Carolyn: I am the mother of three who are in their 20s. They all use foul language regularly. I have been known to drop an f-bomb or two when I stub a toe and such. For them, it is just an adverb or verb they use calmly and constantly.

I used to use foul language more often, until I worked with a guy who told me how offended he was by such words. As a result, I have cut back dramatically and use “gosh” or “heck” in online posts and in conversation. I feel that it makes my kids seem crass, or dull and unimaginative, while also being offensive to some. I shudder to think how my late parents would react if they were to hear it.

I have asked them to clean it up once or twice. One of them told me I was just too sensitive and behind the times because “people just don’t get offended” by this anymore.

Anything I can do? Am I overly sensitive, or well-mannered?

— Mother of Three

Mother of Three: Did your epiphany come after your kids were mostly grown, or early enough in their formative arcs that your kitchen was a modern-day hecking Mayberry?

I may have no reason to ask besides morbid curiosity … because either way, they’re launched. This isn’t a what-is-a-mother-to-do question anymore, not with your kids in their 20s.

Instead, it’s about where your authority ends and theirs (or anyone else’s) begins when it comes to decorum. Do you have standing to ask your kids to curb their profanity in your presence? Yes, you do, as anyone does. Do they have the right to ignore your requests? Yes, technically they do, though that’s rude and I hope they don’t exercise it. Do you have to stand for that? No, you don’t. But they’re your kids, so you may understandably have other priorities in your relationships with them.

I do see the emotional allure of parental loose-end-tying and i-dotting and touch-up spackling — you want to make sure they have the best possible chances in life. And/or, you don’t want to feel bad now that you somehow screwed them up. But:

1. Your “finishing” them is not necessary or even ideal. Could your parent have gotten through to grown-up you as effectively as your co-worker eventually did? Be honest with yourself.

2. It’s not possible. No one parent can teach all there is to teach.

3. Again, it’s too late.

Now’s the time to trust that you did your best and hope you got the general idea across of respecting self and others. And cross your fingers that code-switching fits into their concept of “the times.” And continue to teach by example. And make a mental offering to the gods in advance for watching over your kids as they grind their way to the logical mountaintop and see that you and “people” are not two separate things, and therefore some of the “people” they run across, and possibly count on for things — it just takes one — will find their profanity as crass, dull, unimaginative and sometimes-offensive as you do.

But out loud, for you, there’s only this: To gently persist with, “Language, please, so I can hecking eat my goshdarn dinner in peace.” Think of it as a kind of parent/grown child detente: You stop trying to raise them, and they — eventually, let’s hope — thank you with a little hecking ancestral respect.